From the most eager of eaters to the faddiest of little foodies, children of all ages can benefit from spending time in the kitchen. From peeling to grating, mixing and rolling, there are lots of simple tasks for tiny hands. Some of my happiest memories are of my children cooking and baking. It was a great way to spend quality time together and I loved watching their faces peering through the oven door, waiting for their cakes to rise or their jacket potatoes to crisp.
You’ll stand a good chance of instilling a love of good, healthy food when preparing simple meals together from scratch. It doesn’t need to be complicated or time-consuming – why not start with a simple savoury muffin or a quick and easy frittata recipe (with lots of tasty toppings). We all know that kids love to ask questions – my three children would always ask me about anything and everything! Their thirst for knowledge never ceased to amaze me. That’s why I fed their curiosity in the kitchen, which worked wonders – although I quickly learnt their enthusiasm waned when it came to washing up.
I want to point out that there isn’t a ‘best before’ date on learning how to cook and whilst starting young equips children with the knowledge and skills to make good food choices as they grow-up, it’s never too late to learn good habits. So how can you have a cracking time in the kitchen?
Children can join you in the kitchen earlier than you might think. Whether it’s counting out, weighing or stirring ingredients, mashing, cracking eggs or rolling dough, little ones can give you a helping hand. At the age of 4, 6 and 7 I encouraged my children to cook the supper for the family every Friday. It’s a great way to teach them how to cook and about different foods, where they come from and how to handle utensils sensibly.
Keep it simple
Children (especially toddlers) have short attention spans, so start with recipes that are extra easy and provide a result reasonably quickly. Even if you’re simply making a spot of lunch one afternoon then why not get your little helper in the kitchen prepping a sandwich with you. My Very Hungry Caterpillar sandwich is a super simple recipe (albeit with some added fun factor) and pancakes, omelettes and cupcakes are great options too.
Let’s face it; cooking with kids is never going to be mess free. Spending time in the kitchen should be a fun and memorable experience, so don’t worry about a bit of mess. Make sure you wear aprons or old clothes and use plastic tablecloths to make tidying up easier. Trust me: ingredients like chocolate get everywhere!
Go go gadget
I love using a spiralizer and kids will too. I promise you, sweet potato and courgettes will have never looked so good or been so appealing! Try baking sweet potato curls in the oven with a little olive oil and a sprinkling of herbs and it turns them into the most delectable dish. And, we all know kids love spaghetti so you can get them to help you make a healthy alternative with courgetti.
Decorating their creations, whether that’s cupcakes, mini pizzas or a bowl of fruit salad, will very quickly become their new favourite tasty task. Lay out ingredient bowls and assign mini helpers with themed foodie challenges such as animal bagels, or funny face pizzas.
While you’re cooking together, you could try playing a game and blindfold each child before introducing a new food and ask them to guess what it is. Giving them facts is likely to make them more interested about what is going into the food they are preparing (and eating). Getting kids in the kitchen is more than just teaching them about a balanced diet: as they weigh and measure ingredients they are developing maths skills without even realising, and following recipe instructions and being mindful of utensils are both good life skills.
Getting children to take an active interest in what they’re eating is essential for their general health and wellbeing. And if you have a fussy eater, they’re far more likely to eat something they’ve prepared themselves than something you’ve put in front of them.
My ethos is that we as parents need to help give our children a positive relationship with food, and that means letting them help out in the kitchen. Yes it be might be messy, or chaotic and their enthusiasm might disappear half way through a recipe, but believe me they’ll always be back to eat the goods at the end.
Annabel’s brand new Real Food Kids Will Love cookbook is packed full of advice, top tips and over 100 simple and delicious recipes which the whole family can enjoy together – from 15 minute meals to healthy fast food favourites, cooking with the kids, lunchbox snacks and more.
Many recipes include handy swap-outs to cater for those with food allergies, intolerances or particularly fussy eaters! There is also a range of meat-free and vegan meal options too, meaning mealtimes can be made healthy and fun for the whole family whatever your family’s foodie preferences.